On May 14, the Philadelphia 76ers clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the 2021 NBA Playoffs. This is the first time since 2001 that the Sixers have clinched the No. 1 seed. In honor of this monumental accomplishment Philadelphia has made, let’s take a look back at who how the Sixers went from being the absolute worst team in the league to becoming a top contender nearly a decade later.
10 years ago, the Sixers were the No. 8 seed in the East and matched up with the No. 1 seed Chicago Bulls, who they were able to defeat, but before Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Tobias Harris came to town that was last time winning was a regular thing in the Sixers franchise. The year, the Sixers had a big trade that flopped as they landed center Andrew Bynum, who never played a game for the team. After this failed trade, general manager Sam Hinkie and the Sixers began the infamous Process. The Process really started after the 2012-13 season. Hinkie fired head coach Doug Collins and then proceeded to hire Brett Brown to become the next head coach of the Sixers.
The Sixers’ only All-Star players and truly valuable asset on the team was point guard Jrue Holiday, who was a part of the first big move of Hinkie’s Process. Philadelphia traded Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans for Kentucky center Nerlens Noel and a first round pick. The pick was met with some confusion from fans, but in the end was the right move. The Sixers needed to rebuild and since Holiday was the only All-Star on the team, he was in need of a fresh start. With Noel being an exciting talent coming out college, it made sense. In that same Draft, Philadelphia selected Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams, who soon became a bright spot in the team’s dark road ahead. Carter-Williams went on to win the 2014 Rookie of the Year award and had a stellar game in his NBA debut against the Big Three of the Miami Heat. The Sixers finished the 2013-14 season with 19-63 record which was good enough for 14th in the East.
In the Draft Lottery, the Sixers abysmal record got them the third pick in the draft, which landed them the “Process” himself, Embiid. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, Embiid was out for his first two seasons with the team due to injuries he suffered while at Kansas. The Sixers had a total of seven picks in the 2015 Draft. Notable picks they had were Elfrid Payton with the 10th pick, K.J. McDaniels with the 32nd pick, and Jerami Grant with the 39th pick. Payton ended up being traded to the Orlando Magic in exchange for European star Dario Saric along with a 2015 second round pick and a first round pick in either 2016 or 2017. Saric wouldn’t be coming from Europe for a couple years.
In addition to all these drafts picks, Hinkie also sought out undrafted players such as Robert Covington and T.J. McConnell. Covington and McConnell ended up playing crucial roles in the Process and became fan favorites even though there was a lot of backlash for when Hinkie signed the two players as people wanted him to sign more veterans. It was another rough year for Philly as they started out the season 0-17 and ended up finishing the year with a record of 18-64. They finished second to last their division only above the Knicks who finished the season with 17 wins.
Their 18-win season led to another year with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft. With Embiid being out another year, the Sixers went with the best player available at No. 3, which also ended up being another center. Philadelphia picked 2015 National Champion Jahlil Okafor of the Duke Blue Devils. At this point the Sixers had three young and talented centers on their roster including Embiid, Noel, and Okafor. It wasn’t the best look for the Process and a lot of people started to doubt Hinkie’s strategies as the GM. It also didn’t help that Hinkie also traded former Rookie of the Year Carter-Williams for future Draft picks. Rumors also started to swirl about whether or not Embiid would ever or play or if Saric would ever come over from Europe and if either of them would pan out. All of this leading up to the Sixers’ worst season of the Process.
Philadelphia ended the 2015-16 season with an absolutely terrible 10-72 record making them the absolute worst team in the NBA. During this season the Sixers broke the record for the longest losing streak in American professional sports history when they lost 27 games in a row. This season brought a lot of change as the Sixers brought in Jerry Colangelo to be the team’s Chairman of Basketball Operations. Towards the end of the season, Hinkie handed in his resignation.
Just three years after he was hired and completely turned the team upside down, the father of the Process was gone. The man who had the vision for this team was taken out and replaced by Colangelo’s son, Bryan Colangelo. Philly’s 10-win season earned them the No. 1 pick in the 2016 Draft. There was really only one choice in this one and that was the Australian prodigy from LSU, Ben Simmons. That’s what Hinkie and all his maneuvering got Philly. The jackpot. The one player that could completely change the franchise. And that’s what happened. In addition to Simmons, Philly added other players that became integral parts to the team in Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Furkan Korkmaz. Simmons didn’t play in his first season, but the 2016-17 season marked the first time that both Embiid and Saric stepped on the floor in a Sixers uniform.
While the Sixers didn’t make the playoff this season, it was an improvement. They improved their record by 18 wins finishing with a record of 28-54. Unfortunately for Embiid, he only played 31 games until he was sidelined by foot injuries. The Sixers also made big moves in free agency by doing something they haven’t done in years…signing veterans. Through the free agent market Philadelphia added Jerryd Bayless, Sergio Rodriguez, and Gerald Henderson. The 2016-17 season also marked the first time the Sixers had a nationally televised game since February of 2013.
The Sixers ended up landing the third pick in the 2017 Draft and immediately traded up to the first pick with the Boston Celtics. With the first pick the Sixers drafted Markelle Fultz out of the University of Washington. I think everyone knows what happened with Fultz. He was a fantastic shooter in college, but it didn’t translate to the NBA and he did not live up to the expectations. In addition to these struggles, Philly traded Okafor simply because it didn’t make sense to have him, Embiid, and Noel on the same team. After going 25-25 to start out the season, the team finished the season with a 27-5 record riding a 16-game winning streak. Philadelphia won those 16 straight games with Embiid being sidelined and were anchored by Simmons, who made his debut during this season and won Rookie of the Year.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) June 22, 2017
Th Sixers also added incredible shooters to the squad this season by making the additions of JJ Redick and Marco Belinelli. This team was good enough for a 52-30 record and the No. 3 seed in the East. They played the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs and won the series four games to one. Next up in the conference semifinals were their rivals in the Boston Celtics. Philly lost that series in five games, but this was a big step for the team. The Sixers able to build a series playoff contender and advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2011. The future was obviously bright for this team, but they just needed to work out some kinks and add a few more valuable pieces.
During the offseason, Bryan Colangelo was under fire. He was exposed for tweeting stuff that criticized the team and leaked information under fake burner twitter accounts. Bryan Colangelo also wanted the team’s success to be attributed to him and not to Hinkie, but let’s be real. The only reason they have players like Embiid, Simmons, and Fultz is because Hinkie put rosters on the floor that realistically couldn’t win a lot of games and got them a better chance at a higher draft pick. Bryan Colangelo later released a statement that claimed that his wife was behind the tweets and the burner accounts. That just got him in more trouble, and he resigned in June 2018.
Coming up for the 2018 Draft, the team was still without a GM, so the squad gave drafting responsibilities to the head coach Brown. He picked Mikal Bridges out of Villanova with the 10th pick and then later traded him to the Phoenix Suns for Zhaire Smith. It was successful night overall for Brown and the Sixers as they also ended up with the likes of Shake Milton and Landry Shamet, who both played big roles during their times with the Sixers. Milton is still on the team while Shamet was sent to the Los Angeles Clippers in deal that we’ll talk about a bit later.
Just before the season in September, the Sixers hired Elton Brand to be the new GM of the team. Brand was a former player for the Sixers and was the former GM of the squad’s G-league affiliate, the Delaware 87er’s. Brand made a lot of big moves during his time as GM. The first one was in November of 2018 when they traded for small forward Jimmy Butler of the Minnesota Timberwolves. They sent Minnesota Saric, Covington, Bayless, and a 2022 second-round pick in exchange for Butler and Justin Patton. There was a lot of drama around Butler in the beginning of the 2018-19 season and Brand hoped that Philadelphia would be a good fit for him.
Brand continued to make it known that the team was in a win now mindset as he made another big trade, but this time with the Clippers. Brand sent Shamet, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, a 2020 first-round pick, the Miami Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick, and two 2021 second round picks in exchange for Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, and Mike Scott. Harris was having a career year at this point, Marjanovic was a big asset underneath, and Scott was another consistent shooter the Sixers needed. Another deal he made at the deadline was with the former No. 1 overall pick Fultz. He was sent to Orlando in exchange for Jonathan Simmons, a protected 2019 first-round draft pick, and one 2019 second-round pick. After the trade deadline, the Sixers’ starting lineup was Ben Simmons, Redick, Butler, Harris, and Embiid. A team poised for success and a strong playoff contender.
This week's cover: Processing…
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) February 19, 2019
The team finished with a 51-31 record, which was good enough for the third seed in the East for the second straight year. They took down the Brooklyn nets handedly in the first round in five games while the real challenge came in the conference semifinals. The Sixers went to seven games with the eventual NBA Champions Toronto Raptors. Toronto was led by Kawhi Leonard, who won the series for the team in game seven. Leonard hit a game winner in the final game of the series that took its sweet time falling in the basket. It took a couple bounces around the rim, went in the hoop, and that was it. The Sixers’ season was over. The team Brand built the win-now mindset ended in the same spot as last year. It was unsure whether or not the team would be back together last year as Butler, Redick, and Harris were at the end of their contracts.
On this day 2 years ago, Kawhi Leonard's 4 lucky bounces were heard across the world as the Raptors beat the Sixers in Game 7 🔥
Top five clutch shots of all time 💯pic.twitter.com/PWOpcHqq0j
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) May 12, 2021
Brown remained the head coach of the squad after their successful season and you could say that the 2019 Draft was a successful one. Specifically, because the team traded Ty Jerome and Carsen Edwards (Picks 24 and 33) to the Celtics for Matisse Thybulle, who is now a defensive stud for the Sixers. In the offseason, the Sixers were involved in a four-team trade that involved a couple of sign-and-trade deals. The Sixers received shooting guard Josh Richardson from the Miami Heat, Meyers Leonard from the Portland Trail Blazers, and cash considerations from the Clippers. The Sixers sent Butler to Miami in a sign-and-trade deal along with the Drat rights to Matthias Lessort to the Clippers.
The players that the Sixers brought back were Harris on a max-deal along with Milton, Scott, Korkmaz, and James Ennis. Two big signings that the Sixers got during that time was Al Horford and Trey Burke. The team lost Redick, Marjanovic, and McConnell. After the team jus had their most successful season in recent memory, the roster was going to be a completely different the next season.
The 2019-20 season was one for the ages in general. It stopped in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was continued in the late summer in the NBA Bubble at Disney World in Orlando, Fla. The Sixers finished with a record of 43-30 and earned the six seed in the East. They fell to the Boston Celtics in the first round in four games. This was the first sweep ever to occur in a series between these two rivals in a playoff series.
There were a multitude of problems with the 2019-20 Sixers. The big one being Horford. Sure, the Horford signing looked good on paper, but when you’re trying to play Horford with Embiid and Simmons virtually no shooters on the team, the lane becomes way too clogged up and you’re not going to get far. Brand didn’t make the right moves in the offseason and it costed them in the long run. They lost out on keeping Butler and Redick and it really showed last season on the court with the Sixers and especially in Miami with Butler as he carried the Heat to the NBA Finals. There were a lot of decisions that needed to be made if the Sixers wanted to take the next step and become the contenders they want to become.
After the NBA season ended in September, the Sixers fired Brown from being the head coach. It wasn’t too long after in October that Philly hired former Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers. Rivers brought a plethora of experience including an NBA Championship. Also, the Sixers hired former Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey as their new President of Basketball Operations. When he came in, Morey took control over the personnel decisions and he made a splash.
In November, Morey traded Richardson and the Draft rights for Tyler Bey to the Dallas Mavericks for Seth Curry. Morey checked off bringing a shooter back to the team off his list. That same month he sent Smith to Detroit for Tony Bradley. The biggest deal of them all came in December as Morey sent Horford packing along with Theo Maledon, Vasilije Micic, and their 2025 first-round pick to Oklahoma City for another shooter in Danny Green, Terrance Ferguson, and Vincent Poirier. The team needed shooters and to spread the floor and Morey is giving them the right assets to do just that. By getting rid of Horford and acquiring Green and Curry, the Sixers had a completely different look in 2020-21. He also made one of the best picks of the Draft when he picked Kentucky guard Tyrese Maxey with the 21st pick. Maxey scored 41 points in a game this season….as a rookie.
The Sixers were on top of the Eastern Conference for the majority of the season except for a few times that the Nets pulled ahead. They finished the year with a 49-23 record and like I said at the beginning clinched the No. 1 seed in the East. Embiid mad himself a strong MVP candidate, but it is still in question whether or not he will receive it because he did miss sometime due to a knee injury. Overall, the Sixers have showed that they are a serious contender. From being 10-72 to finishing with the first seed in the East. It was a crazy and long journey for Philly to get where they are now, but I think it’s safe to say that the Process has been a success. Time will tell how this season ends for the Sixers, but all NBA fans can do is sit back and enjoy the ride of the 2021 NBA playoffs.